Friday, 24 June 2016

Blending learning and teaching: One example

Dianne's last post has got me thinking about how we connect when we have combinations of face-to-face (f2f) and distance students, especially when we have to cope with three scenarios simultaneously. The juggling has to be creative to get all three to work.

I thought I'd share with you what we've tried to do in one paper that's part of a secondary graduate initial teacher education qualification. It is a compulsory, full year paper that has to be comparable across three versions - f2f locally, f2f in another city (about a two hour drive away) and entirely virtually, where students are spread throughout the country and are often already working in schools. These people might be teachers from other countries whose ITE quals are not recognised here, and this includes many teachers from the UK who migrate to New Zealand.

Another complication is that this paper consists of three diverse modules: Te Puawaitanga, which is about understanding cultural diversity and honouring our treaty partners; literacy across the curriculum, which is examining textual strategies and their links to learning; and PICT - pedagogy and ICT.

On the face of it, they have nothing in common, yet they are part of aspects underpinning the New Zealand education system. They help address the Key Competencies in the curriculum and support the professional practices of novice teachers. They also position these pre-service teachers to examine themselves, their contexts and their practices. So that there are synergies across the three modules, the other lecturers and I use Panopto to stream live and record our lectures to our local f2f group.  This is accessed through Moodle and all three groups are using the same Moodle site. To provide a mix that acknowledges the three versions (they are labelled HAM, NET, TGA), students are in subgroups for each discussion and all discussions are online in response to whatever is prefaced by the lesson itself. The discussions are also predicated on students having to try something out after the lecture to inform their online posts.

To organise the Moodle page this year, instead of having three different sites, all three groups (HAM, NET, TGA) and all three modules are organised into the same online space. Each module has its own section so the lecturers modified their section to suit. Each section was collapsible, to stop the page looking too daunting, but had easy navigation options that started with a structured overview diagram.  I created it using, which cleverly works with Drive. I had never used before, so I had to figure out what to do and solve the problems I needed to address. I had to create the three modules' content information as labels, adding hot links for each to the relevant area of the module, get the timetable information in order, and then work out how to imbed the overview into Moodle. The intention is that it operated as a ready reckoner for students to quickly find their way around. This is what the overview looks like. Students can enlarge or reduce the size as they wish by using a + or - option above it:

However, even the best laid plans have issues. One of these is the expectation that students will familiarise themselves with the site and read the information designed to help them, from the get-go. As learners, when we're busy, we tend to skim and look for shortcuts. This is eminently sensible when you already familiar with things, but not a good idea when everything is unfamiliar. When the total cohort is about 120 students, addressing individual help! emails (outside of Moodle) that ask questions about things that are answered in the site itself,  often requires some restraint. This is because questions can come thick and fast at the start of a programme. They can be overwhelming and stressful when students do not indicate whether they have tried to find out the answer before emailing, so this requires some more digging to check what didn't work first in order to rule certain things out, or offer good solutions where possible. A short video that screencasts the answer to a stated problem is one I find that works which I post into the Moodle site for everyone to use (in the Q&A area - see the image below):

I now have quite a large store of how-to screencasts that become useful as a just-in-need arises. As Dianne's post notes, the video posts can personalise and humanise what might otherwise seem distant and cold. One of our colleagues, lisahunter, describes her trials and tribulations of trying to teach online as a new staff member in Digital Smarts. She describes some of the labyrinthine efforts that took place as she found her way. You might enjoy reading her chapter. The book is free!

Also as Dianne observes, clarity and presence is something we strive for and constantly seek feedback on how well things are working. To that end, Dianne is leading a partnership with York University on peer mentoring online, where we are paired with someone else to seek a dispassionate point of view about our own puzzles of practice as we teach online. It is a wonderful experience and creates links that might not otherwise exist across space and context.

So what are your experiences? As a lecturer online or as a student learning through such an LMS as Moodle? We'd love to hear from you.


  1. Hi,

    I have never really experiences the blended learning with both face to face, and online components. It was good to read a little more about it so that I can understand more about it and where you are coming from. Thinking about my own classroom, it would be good to have work up on a well set out class blog so that if students are away for some reason, they can still interact with the class and what we are learning face to face.


    1. Thank you Natasha, your thoughts are most welcome